What Cashman Will Do at the Deadline - Outfield
by Cary Greene
July 7, 2022
One area the Yankees may look to upgrade at the deadline is the outfield. It’s no secret, they’d like to solve the center field issue and probably use Aaron Hicks as the team’s fourth outfielder. It’s clear that Joey Gallo is at the end of the line.
Numerous outfielders on non-contending teams figure to be the center of rumors as we approach the trade deadline.
A major factor that will impact Brian Cashman’s Deadline-dealings is the Yankees limited flexibility in terms of payroll. The Yankees are halfway into the second-tier of the CBA’s brand new Luxury-Tax threshold. There isn’t a ton of flexibility with this situation and it’s very likely that Cashman will have explicit orders not to make any deals that would advance the team into the third-tier of the Luxury Tax’s configuration. The Yankees blew past Tier-One, which was set at $230 to $249.9 million, with a 20% tax-rate per the 2022 CBA. Tier-Two, where the Yankees payroll currently resides - at $247 million, is set between $250 million and $269.9 million, with a 32% tax-rate. This leaves the Yankees about $27 million to work with before the dreaded Third-Tier of $270 million and a 62.5% tax rate is eclipsed. There is a Fourth-Tier that is set at $290 million with an 80% tax as well. <gulp>
It’s highly unlikely that the Yankees will be able to shed significant payroll as a number of the players who have larger contracts are either key pieces to the Yankees World Series hopes or, they’re virtually untradable (Aaron Hicks, Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton..etc). Therefore, and you read it first here on SSTN, I expect Yankee GM Brian Cashman to be very thrifty at the deadline because, as constructed, the Yankees are on-pace to set an all-time record of 118 wins.
There’s one last factor to consider as well, before I open this conversation. The Yankees currently have a “stop-gap” plan in place as last offseason Brian Cashman elected to avoid pricey free-agents and go with players who could keep positions warm in the hope that Yankee minor league prospects might eventually force the team to promote them. There is almost zero chance that any positional prospects would be ready before the 2023 All-Star break and it’s almost a certainty that none will get a permanent call up at any juncture between now and the end of the season.
With all of this in mind, I’d look for Cashman to focus on acquiring players who are either in their walk-years or perhaps have one additional year of team control.
I’ve established two very likely restrictions that will impact the types of trades that Brian Cashman will want to make. He can’t bring on substantial payroll and he doesn’t want to part with top prospects that truly are now part of the organization's future plans.
Highly desirable players are either financially very expensive or, they have extremely high median trade-values, the latter of which means that it means the Yankees would have to be willing to part with top prospects to have any shot of realistically compelling another organization to part with commensurately valued players. The higher a trade target’s median trade-value is, the less likely Brian Cashman will be willing to trade for that player.
Teams that are sellers will not be looking to bring on payroll. They’ll be looking to shed it. They also won’t be looking to trade away controllable talent. Therefore, Cashman will need to hunt for players who are nearing the end of their tenures with their current teams and who have reasonable contracts, with an eye towards impacting the 2023 Yankees roster. The chart below represents the Yankees current splits. Any acquired players would need to make sense and be a fit.
Weeding Out Players Who Aren’t a Fit:
Articles are already popping up on Yankees sites everywhere about players who make sense for the Yankees to target. Given the restraints Brian Cashman will face and factoring in his reluctance to trade high-level prospects and also due to the current “stop-gap” approach that the Yankees have so successfully undertaken, it is highly unlikely that many of the rumored players are actually ones that Cashman will make a serious run at.
It’s also been reported that Cashman often fakes interest in a player, in order to drive the asking price up and he likely does this when rivals are looking to add a difference maker who’s free-agent asking price is steep or, in the case of a trade, who’s prospect-haul is significantly high.
Buzzing through the list of players that have been written about as being great fits for the Yankees, it’s possible to weed many names out. Juan Soto of the Nationals easily tops this list. The cost in prospects to acquire Soto, if he were being shopped, would be through the roof. There’s no way a team like the Yankees, who are trying to tweak their roster in hope of winning a World Series, could make a successful trade for Soto, who would also simultaneously cause the Yankees payroll to go up $8.55 million for this season.
Even if the Yankees could trade for Soto, which they 100% can’t, with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo all presently on the Yankee roster, adding another right-fielder like Soto makes little sense, he’s simply not a fit.
Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds is another player that has massive trade value and acquiring him is simply not possible for the Yankees at this time. Besides, Reynold’s isn’t a fit either. He’s a bad baserunner, he’s prone to hitting into double-plays and he’s a bad defensive center fielder who probably should be moved to left field ASAP.
This brings us to Cedric Mullins of the Orioles, another player who is far too expensive, in terms of prospects, for the Yankees to acquire. The Orioles would never trade him to the Yankees, but even if they considered doing it, the Yankees would never part with Anthony Volpe and that’s the only way they could get Mullins. It’s not happening.
Other players whose names have popped up in articles and have been labeled as a possible fit for the Yankees are Arizona’s Alek Thomas, Baltimore’s Austin Hayes, Oakland’s Ramon Laureano, and the Rangers Adolis Garcia.
Alek Thomas is strictly a left-handed bat who would only play against right-handed pitching. His splits against lefties are awful. Granted, he’s an excellent base runner and a decent defender in center field with a chance to stick at the position, there’s zero chance Cashman would part with Anthony Volpe to land a platoon player and that’s what it would take to acquire Thomas. Never mind that Arizona’s not even shopping him to begin with.
Meanwhile, Austin Hayes is also not being shopped by Baltimore and he would cost Oswald Peraza plus a very good pitching prospect. In addition, he hits right handed so he’s not a player that fits the Yankees needs presently, though his splits against right-handed pitching are Luke Voitian good and he hits lefties equally well. Hayes is a legit outfielder and he’s solid defensively in left field, but a trade for him is simply too costly.
The Rangers' Adolis Garcia wouldn’t even be an every day player for the Yankees. Garcia struggles mightily against left-handed pitching, even though he bats right-handed. Garcia handles righties respectably, to the tune of an .840 OPS, which surged up .101 points in June, but Garcia remains a polarizing player. He’s been on my trade radar for two-years now and it’s still the same old schtick with him. Garcia can’t hit lefties to save his life (.611 OPS vs LHP) and he still strikes out way too much (29% K-Rate), which makes me wonder if the Rangers somehow instill this behavior in their players? Though he’s an exceptional baserunner, he doesn’t walk enough to save his life either (4.3% BB-Rate) so he barely gets an opportunity to wreak havoc with his speed and this simply precludes him from being a fit with the Yankees.
One last player who’s the subject of many Yankee trade rumors can also be weeded out and that’s Chicago’s Ian Happ. There’s a lot to like with Happ, he’s a great fit statistically. Happ is a right-handed batter who has an .815 OPS against right-handed pitching and a .990 OPS against left-handed pitching. He’s also extremely versatile defensively, he plays all over the diamond but he’d be utilized mostly in left field with the Yankees. He takes his walks at a 13.1% clip and keeps his strikeouts under control (19%), isn’t a problem hitting into double-plays and he’s also an average base runner and an above average defender in left-field.
What’s not to like with Happ? He’s expensive and would only bring a year-and-a-half of team control. Baseballtradevalues.com has Happ’s value listed at $26.5 million. The Yankees simply won’t part with Oswald Peraza and a successful trade would start there and likely also involve Luis Gil. There’s no way Cashman would move that kind of prospect value for a year-and-a-half of Ian Happ. Though Happ does have very solid splits, he doesn’t rake against right-handed pitching either.
Improving the Outfield (Realistic Trade Candidates):
In order for the best team in baseball to improve, the needle will have to move as a result of any trade Brian Cashman makes. Trade targets will need to be reasonably painless to acquire and contractually affordable as Cashman absolutely will need to keep the Yankee payroll in check.
Center Fielder Trade Target #1: On that note, one surprise candidate who might be an outstanding fit with the Yankees is Kansas City’s Michael Taylor, who I have atop my 2022 Deadline board regarding center fielders who are a fit with the Yankees. I’ve ranked Taylor as the best overall fit for the Yankees.
Unfortunately, Taylor bats right handed, but like Happ, Taylor has great reverse-splits, he’s batting .301 vs right-handed pitching and his OPS against righties went up .046 points in the month of June to where it is presently at .794, so he’s a player who’s putting it all together right now - when many potential fits have begun to wilt in the June heat. Taylor’s .708 OPS against lefties suggests he could easily start against lefties as well, depending on the matchups.
Defensively, Taylor has a +7 DRS / +3.8 UZR-150 and he brings a decent walk rate of 10.6% to the table as well. The best part of acquiring Taylor is that he’s extremely reasonable to acquire, it would take a prospect such as Beck Way to get a deal done. Acquiring Taylor instantly upgrades the Yankees defensively and it allows the Bombers to reduce Aaron Hicks' playing time. Another bonus to acquiring Taylor is that he comes with a year and a half of team control, which means he could be part of the Yankees plans next season in addition to bolstering the Yankees up the middle this year, as the team sets its sights on capturing a World Series. Given that the prospect cost is affordable, Cashman will be highly attracted to Taylor.
Left-Fielder Trade Target #1: The next name I’ll continue floating is that of Adrew Benintendi. Andy Singer first identified Benintendi as being a fit with the Yankees - doing so over two years ago. Since then, myself and a number of other SSTN writers have written quite a bit about how good of a fit Benintendi would be. We’ve been beating this trade drum here at SSTN for over two years now. This year, almost every contender is inquiring about Benintendi and he’s finally in his walk year, so maybe the Royals might finally move him. Benintendi is clearly far-and-away the best overall fit for the Yankees in left field. He might even be a player Cashman would want to extend, since he’s presently in his walk-year.
Unfortunately, Benintendi is pretty darn costly too, but nowhere near as costly as all of the much rumored trade targets I’ve already completely squashed. A trade for Benintendi would likely take Ken Waldichuk and a lower level prospect. With so many teams interested in Benintendi, there is a very good chance that the Royals will exact an even larger price than his current median trade value of $9.3 million, which is down from the $11.5 million it was at when the season started.
Benintendi has a strong hit tool, he punishes right-handed pitching to the tune of a .330 average and an .823 OPS. He also hits well enough to play against left-handed pitching, sporting a .261 average with a .644 OPS.
Since Taylor and Benintendi both play for the Royals, Cashman would be wise to put together an overwhelming offer to entice the Royals to want to make a deal. Perhaps including Gallo in the deal, with his contract to be paid by NY while also including Estevan Florial plus adding a quality pitching prospect like Waldichuk would be a way to benefit the Royals not only this season, but beyond.
Other Left Fielder Trade Targets:
There are precious few outfielders on the trade market whom the Yankees could/would afford, who could also represent upgrades from Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks.
A few names that I’d list as secondary outfielders of interest would be Cincinnati's Tommy Pham or Pittsburgh’s Ben Gammel.
Pham bats right-handed but he hits right-handed pitching to the tune of a .266 average and a .766 OPS, so he’s a small upgrade from Gallo, who’s at .188 / .688 against right-handed pitching, but against left-handed pitching, Pham is far better as his average is .257 but his OPS is .821 compared to Gallo who is unplayable against left-handed pitchers, with a .113 Avg / .406 OPS stat line. Pham could be an everyday player offensively.
The Yankees get .233 Avg / .644 OPS production out of Aaron Hicks against left-handed pitching presently so Pham is still a small offensive upgrade but, when we factor in Pham’s soundly below average defense and levy that against Hicks, who is an average defender and Gallo, who is still a strong defender in right field and the desire to trade for Pham wanes significantly.
Considering the Pirates Ben Gamel, a former Yankee who came up through the Yankees system, he’s probably an even better fit than Pham is. I say that because he’s a far better defensive left fielder, while still being very impactful offensively. Gamel hits from the left side, which makes him a great fit with the Yankees when coupled with the results of his splits. Pham is clearly an everyday player, but Gamel would give the Yankees a platoon option to pair with Aaron Hicks.
Gammel hits .259 with a .748 OPS against right handed pitching, so he would start against righties. His .250 / .685 splits against left handed pitching aren’t bad either, so based on matchups, he’d still be useful to the Yankees offense. The 2022 Yankees have little room for a below average defensive player, so Gamel might actually be the better fit, though Fangraphs doesn’t like Gamel defensively, perhaps because he has a -3 outs below average rating, but it’s hard to argue with UZR/150 and Gamel has a +12.1 in 290 left-field innings this year. He’s a speedy outfielder with a slightly below average arm basically.
Other things to really like about Gamel include his well above average base running, his ability to avoid hitting into double plays (mostly due to his plus speed) and his ability to take walks, which accounts for his 12.5% walk-rate. What Cashman might like most of all though is that Gamel’s median trade-value only $2 million is half-that of Pham's, so the cost in acquiring him would be very palatable as it would involve trading a lower level but decent prospect. Gamel is basically a rental player, which might also appeal to Cashman as trading for him would be a way to move on from Gallo without having to make a longer-term commitment.
Final Piece to a Championship Roster:
Yankees teams of the past have added big left-handed bats for championship runs, David Justice and Darryl Strawberry are two prime examples. The Yankees should absolutely consider doing this because collectively, the Red Sox, Astros and Dodgers represent the most historically difficult to beat pitching that any team has ever faced. To beat that much pitching, extraordinary hitting will be needed. The Yankees will also have to outscore these three opponents, who all have absurdly good offenses as well.
Therefore, there is one final piece for Cashman to add and after scouring the list of potentially available players, the National’s Josh Bell is by far the best fit. First the obvious: The switch-hitting Bell DESTROYS right-handed pitching, he doesn’t just hit righties will, he completely mangles them. Bell is hitting .337 with a .943 OPS against righties on the season. He also hits lefties well, to the tune of a .293 average and a .861 OPS, which surged upwards by .211 points in June. Bell is pulling 40.2% of his batted balls this season, which makes him a fearsome bat to interject into the heart of a postseason lineup. His low strikeout rate of 13.3% is in the top 7% of the league and his elite walk rate of 11.5% means that he has a great eye at the plate and terrific strike zone recognition.
Like most lumbering first basemen, Bell is a well below average base runner who is prone to hitting into double-plays, but the damage he does far outweighs these two shortcomings. He hits for average and he causes damage when he strokes the baseball and his wOBA of .388 is in the top 5% of all MLB hitters. Putting a switch-hitter in between Judge and Stanton, with Rizzo protecting Stanton, suddenly takes what was a great Yankee offense and makes it unstoppable.
Accommodating Bell involves heeding the lessons this season has taught Brian Cashman and the Yankees. Having veteran players on the bench, who can step into the lineup after a number of days off and still be productive, despite maybe not getting regular at bats, is highly valuable. This makes the Yankees situationally devastating and Aaron Boone can therefore play the matchups. No team in baseball does this like the Yankees do and because Marwin Gonzalez not only backs up Kiner-Falefa at shortstop, but he also plays either corner outfield spot and is always ready, he’s the perfect bench piece.
In fact, due to the presence of Gonzalez, the Yankees don’t need a fifth outfielder because they also have Matt Carpenter, who Aaron Boone has hinted that he may try to work into the outfield mix. The reason this hasn’t happened recently is because Gonzalez is playing so well.
Over the second-half of the season, the Yankees wouldn’t need Aaron Hicks. They have the switch hitting Gonzalez to cover the utility role and this means an extra bench spot opens up (assuming Gallo is traded). Giancarlo Stanton is also playing more and more outfield.
Against elite right-handed postseason pitching, imagine this lineup (with Hicks being left off the postseason roster):
1. Benintendi LF
2. Judge CF
3. Bell DH
4. Stanton RF
5. Rizzo 1B
6. Carpenter 3B
7. Torres 2B
8. Trevino C
9. Falefa SS
Bench: Gonzalez- UIF/UOF, Donaldson 3B, Higashioka C , LeMahieu UIF)